Mal-hee (played by Hwang Woo-seul-hye) is a thirty three year old statistics teacher who's never even so much as kissed a guy. But honestly, the woman has bigger problems than that. Her father is...well, the guy's not a monster or anything, but his presence looms ominously over the film, even though he's absent for most of it. This is a man with a much more libertine sex life, in spite of his age. But he's apparently incapable of discussing matters of amour with his daughter, leading to some warped perspectives considering her value as a woman.
And all of these awful ideas are only confirmed with the arrival of Se-yeong (played by Kim Sa-hee), a much more sexually adventurous art instructor who is, in a word, horribly unlikable and repulsive. She's sexy, I guess, and certainly seems to enjoy intercourse. But the woman engages in this recreation with a sociopathic self-interested viciousness that's frankly kind of disgusting. The scene where she firsts meet Mal-hee is...well...let's just say the circumstances do not justify Se-yeong's long term goal. Particularly since until the final scenes "Marbling" gives us no reason to believe Se-yeong has any interest in anything aside from engaging in and justifying her own sexual adventures.
As you can see, there are interesting ideas here that seem to bely the movie's apparent premise of teaching Mal-hee about how to seduce men. But no, "Marbling" is actually exactly what it looks like- which creates big problems when contrasted with the characterization. Mal-hee's romantic failures feel less like a result of her own shyness as they do a result of constant subtle emotional abuse. While the movie gets some mileage out of building up the friendship between Mal-hee and Se-yeong, it fails to meaningfully address the problems with Se-yeong's philosophy.
One subplot, for example, concerns a student of Se-yeong's who draws erotic comics. These comics emphasize unrealistically gigantic breasts. They are obviously stupid and terrible comics, and Se-yeong says as much. But she does so in such a condescending way it's difficult to take her seriously. Additionally, while the oversized knockers are a simplistic appeal to the baser urges of men, isn't Se-yeong's entire sexual philosophy basically the same thing? Sure it's more complicated, and has more pretensions of empowerment- but so what? When nearly every man in sight is either basically pathetic or can be reduced to such a state by psychological nonsense, the goals of both Mal-hee and Se-yeong just come off as questionable.
In this sense "Marbling" bears some similarity to last year's "How to Use Guys with Secret Tips"- but whereas that movie had decent self-awareness of the problematic nature of its tropes, "Marbling" eventually just gives up trying to make sense of the broader implications whatsoever and devolves into extremely strange setpieces. The climactic scene involves a series of fistfights. I guess this was supposed to be funny, but it just comes off as weird.
Even Mal-hee's character arc has the same schizoid problem. The final scene seems to have the exact opposite message as the woman's previous romantic encounter, and the only explanation there is for the change is, once again, another strange plot twist that really just feels manipulative, especially considering the source of Mal-Hee's general derangement to begin with. All in all, this makes "Marbling" a fairly disappointing product.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Marbling""
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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